Making Blades a Sweeter Deal For SMBs

Jun 14, 2007

Erin Joyce

Blades have been booming in popularity for a few years now, mostly because they take up less space in cramped data centers.

But for smaller and even mid-sized outfits, with their skimpy IT staffs and budgets, it's another story. They still have to deal with the cramped racks, spaghetti wires splayed in every direction and sprawling systems.

IBM is adding more options to that slice of the market with a new BladeCenter "S" system that it claims could help consolidate the 25 to 45 servers used by an average mid-size company by up to 80 percent.

On average, about 10 of those servers are typically appliances designed to perform a single or specialized set of server functions, such as storage, security and Web serving, IBM said during a preview Webcast and conference today, quoting research by Gartner.

Blade Center
BladeCenter in the server room.
Source: IBM

The BladeCenter hardware is about the size of some desktop PCs, can sit on a desktop, plugs into a standard 110 volt power outlet, and can manage storage and up to six blade servers at a time.

Alex Yost, vice president and business line executive for IBM's BladeCenter hardware division, said the system is designed to integrate applications most commonly used for business functions -- such as antivirus/firewall, voice over IP, e-mail, collaboration, back up and recovery and file and print applications, the usual office stuff.

The system has got a lot of do-it-yourself IT administration baked in, too. For example, Yost said during the presentation, the system can be configured for the first time in the same way a consumer would set up a home PC, with an installation "wizard" to walk the IT administrator through the set up. If the IT administrators know how to select and click, they should be OK with this system.

The blade systems can also be configured by IT administrators ahead of time, shipped out to a branch office or remote location, plugged in and fired up on the spot.

IBM probably has more selling opportunities with the medium-sized part of the SMB (define) sector than smaller players right now, said Nathan Brookwood, analyst with research firm Insight64.

But for the number one blade seller, IBM sees a sweet spot in selling scaled down versions of blades into new markets, and claims to have simplified it so much that it makes sense for SMBs that may not have an internal IT department to move to a blade format, Brookwood added.

IBM is plenty armed with stats on how fast the blade sector is growing in servers. For example, it cited IDC's 2006-2010 forecast that said the market would grow from $3 billion annually to $11 billion by the end of the decade.

IDC also ranks IBM as the number one vendor in sales, followed by HP and Dell, and has noted that IT managers are buying blades as part of their "virtual IT infrastructures" as well.

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